May 17, 2012: Jonathan Papelbon of the Philadelphia Phillies celebrates his save and a Phillies victory over the Chicago Cubs. The Phillies beat the Cubs 8-7.
One of the things about this group of Phillies – and any of the teams dating back to 2006, really – was that the team was never really distracted by things that occurred off the field. That's not to say that those things didn't happen, but you never really heard any stories about in-fighting or bad attitudes or players butting heads, at least not to the point where it affected the play on the field.
The reason for that, one could assume, is that the players and coaches took it upon themselves to keep everyone focused and heading in the right direction, starting with manager Charlie Manuel and trickling down to the coaches, starters, and bench players. And even though the team never named an official captain, it was always just accepted that Jimmy Rollins – who was the most vocal member of the team – was the de facto leader dating back to 2007. Whether or not the other players cared or accepted that is another story, but we've really yet to hear otherwise.
That is, until relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon spoke out about the leadership – or lack thereof – during the 2012 season. His comments first appeared in the Allentown Morning Call, and he echoed that sentiment to CSNPhilly's Jim Salisbury...
“It was an all-around leadership void, from A to Z,” Papelbon said Friday at Phillies camp. “As far as the bullpen goes, I lacked a lot of leadership last year. I could have stepped up and done some things different to help lead them and maybe the bumps and bruises wouldn’t have been so bad for our bullpen.
They are damning words coming from a player who was part of a Red Sox team in 2011 that wasn't known for a cohesiveness among its players, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Papelbon is wrong. Maybe he was right. Maybe the team – which consisted mostly of players who either have a ring or a big contract extension under their belt – got lazy. Maybe they thought they could coast. Maybe they thought they could overcome it all. Who knows?
Or maybe Papelbon was just running his mouth in an effort to get the team more fired up about the 2013 season as part of some psychological warfare designed to get the veterans on the team to be more active in maintaining a clubhouse that is conducive to creating a better on-the-field attitude.
Either way, the most outspoken member of the Phillies – Jimmy Rollins - doesn't disagree.
“Identity might be the word,” Rollins said. “We had a lot of moving parts last year. Parts coming in, a lot of new parts coming in. Regulars not being around, not being together, you know that bond that forms from being together.
“He brought up the feel of the team and how much better it is this year compared to last year,” Rollins said. “We were just talking in general. We were talking about the difference between this year and last year - the whole feel, having the whole gang together, having the whole team together even from the start.
Whatever the case may be, it doesn't appear that Papelbon's words have created any kind of fracture in the team. At least, not one that we can see. Only time will tell if his words have any weight, but it will be very interesting to see how this team responds to those kinds of comments from one of their own.